How to Transplant a Holly Bush

Written by denise schoonhoven
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How to Transplant a Holly Bush
Holly's sharp leaves make thick gardening gloves a necessity. (holly image by david purday from

The bright red berries and shiny green leaves of American holly herald the traditional winter holiday season. This small tree, along with other types of Ilex -- the Latin name for holly -- make attractive ornamentals in the landscape. Occasionally a holly plant will overgrow its original space or the landscape design may be changed. Due to its shallow root system, you can transplant holly and expect it to rapidly reestablish itself in the new location.

Skill level:

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Things you need

  • Shovel
  • Compost
  • Mulch
  • Heavy-duty garden gloves

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  1. 1

    Identify if the holly is an evergreen (American, Japanese and English holly) or a deciduous holly that drops its leaves in the fall (winterberry, possumhaw). Transplant the deciduous type in the early spring. You can move evergreen types either in spring or in the autumn.

  2. 2

    Dig a hole in the new planting location that is 2 feet deep and as wide as the existing holly's width. Place a 3-inch layer of compost in the bottom of the hole.

  3. 3

    Run an open garden hose at the base of the existing holly plant for 10 to 15 minutes, until the roots and surrounding ground are thoroughly soaked. Allow it to sit for at least eight hours or overnight to loosen the soil.

  4. 4

    Cut a circle into the ground around the holly, 12 to 16 inches from its base. Insert a sharp shovel as deeply as possible into the soil repeatedly. Rock the shovel back and forth by the handle to loosen the soil and cut through roots. Press down on the shovel handle over and over to gently lift the holly. Continue working around the plant until it is completely free.

  5. 5

    Lift the holly from the ground and knock away most of the dirt from its roots. Move the holly to its new location and set it in the hole. Fan the roots out evenly. Fill the hole with dirt, tamping it down frequently to remove air pockets.

  6. 6

    Water the newly transplanted holly promptly, soaking the surrounding ground. Spread a 1-inch layer of compost in a 1-foot circumference of the plant's base. Spread a 2-inch layer of mulch over the compost to retain soil moisture and reduce weed growth.

Tips and warnings

  • Select a new planting location that receives full sunlight during the day with partial shade to protect from hot afternoon sun in warmer climates.
  • Wear heavy-duty garden gloves, long trousers and a thick shirt or jacket when transplanting holly with spines to protect hands and limbs from scratches.

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